The toughest question for Cameron come 2015: how to solve a problem like Ukip?

The Prime Minister can no longer ignore Nigel Farage and his party

Share
Fact File
  • 25 to 40 seats Michael Fabricant's prediction of what Ukip will cost the Tories in the next election
Related Topics

Some things in life, you put off and put off. The source of the procrastination may be tedium (all those red utility bills yellowing on the doormat), or fear about a medical problem such as tinnitus, which is probably no more than a whooshy noise in the ear, but might prove a symptom of a benign tumour (acoustic neuroma) if you took it to the doctor.

Which of those analogies best represents Ukip in the mind of the Prime Minister, I have no idea. Nigel Farage may strike David Cameron as something to be paid off to avoid being disconnected from Downing St at the next election, or as an ailment that needs investigating to establish whether it poses a real threat. If, on the other hand, he would rather continue ignoring Mr Farage and his gaggle of blazered patriots, one understands the temptation.

For me, ignoring Mr Farage during all the years in which he has buzzed away more as irritant than searing pain has been the only course, though not because he appears to be particularly unpleasant. Far from it, if you fancied buying an MG from a Mayfair showroom in 1959, he would be the ideal salesman. He’d take you into the office, schmooze you over a G&T (ice and slice), proffer the cigarette case, shoot a cuff, tell a risqué joke (“A Scotsman, a Jew and a Belgian Eurocrat...”), and knock off thirty quid because you seem a decent sort of cove.

In so far as I have ever considered Mr Farage – a name he pronounces to (almost) rhyme with mirage, not marriage; there’s a hint of the golf-club Hyacinth Bucket, despite the public school/commodities broker background – it is as an affable hybrid of spiv and snug bar know-all. A cross between a less engaging Terry-Thomas and a less repulsive Peter Alliss, he strikes me as a fine fellow for a brief chat about birds, jazz and mashie niblicks at the 19th, though not necessarily someone you’d care to find in the next seat on a Boeing 777 to Melbourne.

Stuck with Mr Farage for the long haul, however, is what we seem to be. With Ukip up to 14 per cent in one poll, and apparently heading north, this comic figure must be taken seriously. According to another amusing politician, the insanely bewigged Conservative vice-chairman Michael Fabricant, Ukip’s dilution of the core vote will cost the Tories 25 to 40 seats unless an electoral deal is cut. Both Messrs Farage and Cameron, who once described Ukip as closet racists, dismiss that idea at least for now. If the Mexican stand-off persists, Mr Farage may propel comparatively Eurotolerant Labour to power, and do for Ed Miliband in 2015 what a left-wing environmentalist did for George W Bush in 2000. Mr Farage could yet be our very own Ralph Nader.

If that is to be his sentence under the law of unintended consequences, he has the resilience and immunity from embarrassment to bear it lightly. Others whose light aircraft crashed on general election day because the Ukip banner got entangled in the tail fin would have taken this for an omen. This remarkable MEP doughtily went on to reclaim the leadership of his party, with the self-belief with which he famously told the EU President, Herman Van Rompuy, that he had “all the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk”.

Deal breaker

The attraction of such blunt speaking of perceived truth to power in hated Brussels has enabled him to ride out scandals that might have sunk others. A Latvian woman called Liga claimed once to have made love with him seven times, with ice cubes involved, after they met in a Biggin Hill pub. He laughed it off, insisting that while he passed a night under the same roof with Liga from Riga, he merely slept. Ukip if you want to, as he might have put it, the laddie’s only for kipping.

With a cocktail of self-deprecation, bonhomie, tenacity and better political smarts than mainstream thinking has credited him (he has been typically cute in taking advantage of blue-rinse antipathy to gay marriage), he has fashioned himself into a mainstream player. By dint of a rigid consistency born of principles which, whether one likes them or not, are obviously genuine, he has come to speak for a sizeable minority of Thatcherite Tories (and, to a lesser extent, traditional Labour voters) with as clear and authentic a voice as his hero Enoch Powell.

All of this leaves the PM three options. He can offer a deal whereby Ukip withdraws parliamentary candidates from marginals in return for a post-election, straight in-or-out EU referendum in which Mr Cameron would have to fight for “in”, knowing that his defeat and immediate resignation would be odds on. He can seek to nullify Ukip by moving the Tories so far to the right – on immigration, welfare and taxation as well as Europe – that he cedes every inch of the centre ground to Ed Miliband and virtually ensures a Labour victory. Or, hoping to God that it’s idiopathic background noise and not a tumour, he can go on trying to live with that infuriating buzz as best he can. Which is the least hideous option is hard to call, but a hunch says he can forget the last. The time for ignoring Nigel Farage has passed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The UCAS clearing house call centre in Cheltenham, England  

Ucas should share its data on students from poor backgrounds so we can get a clearer picture of social mobility

Conor Ryan
A study of 16 young women performing light office work showed that they were at risk of being over-chilled by air conditioning in summer  

It's not just air conditioning that's guilty of camouflage sexism

Mollie Goodfellow
Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks